Do you like food? Do you like science? The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science is the book for you.
Surely cooking is just an art? Well yes and no, what happens when you heat foods, or marinade them or indeed do anything to them other than serve them raw (and even that is not quite that simple), is governed by the laws of physics.
Up until quite recently chefs knew what they were doing not because they knew what they were doing but because they had learnt from chefs before them or had learnt from mistakes. But they usually had no actual scientific knowledge of what was going on at a deeper level and they never tried to find out.
Today though even the simplest kitchen has an instant read thermometer like the Thermapen. You don’t need to be an expert to judge when that piece of meat is perfectly done to your liking, you can slip in the needle-sharp point of the Thermapen and know exactly when it is done because you will know the precise internal temperature. Simple. And this book likes gadgets that take the guesswork out of getting it right.
J. Kenji LÃƒÂ³pez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer at www.seriouseats.com and is a curious mixture of noisy self-confident, food blogger with bad jokes and serious, well-informed, studious scientist. He is quite obsessive about what happens to food when it’s prepared and never takes any received opinion for granted preferring to carefully check it out in near laboratory style. Hence Food Lab..
Thus on the subject of steaks he tells us that getting a steak out the fridge thirty minutes before cooking makes no appreciable difference, but salting it hours before definitely does. These are not random opinions; he has tried all the permutations and arrived at objective conclusions.
Only turn the steak once? Rubbish he says, that’s become a’rule’ because a busy restaurant only has time to flip it once, but at home the more you flip it the better for achieving even cooking inside and a good crust outside. Again he has gone through a ton of steaks to check this out.
J (or Kenji, it’s hard to know what to call him with a name like his) focuses on American foods because that’s what his readers on the website like best. He explores how to make dishes better, for example Macaroni Cheese. How does it get to the right gooey consistency? Step by step instructions and photos show you how. Even frying and boiling eggs gets the scientific analysis to achieve consistent success
It’s literally a huge book, 900 pages, and how he found time to write it is a mystery, but it’s full of recipes as well as erudition. It will make you question just about everything you know about cooking as well as give you new ways of doing old things to make them better. No Italian has ever put fish sauce and Marmite in a Bolognese sauce I’m sure, but J’s reasoning is enough to make me want to try it for myself.
Add to that chapters on tools, knives, temperatures and conversion charts and you have a hefty tome that is well worth its price.